As COVID cases grow across New England, so do concerns from health officials, especially as holiday gatherings approach. New data from every state in the region except Connecticut shows an uptick in cases.
Massachusetts reported 1,848 new cases Tuesday, Maine 952, New Hampshire 744, Connecticut 544, Rhode Island 516 and Vermont 187.
NBC News reports that two-week coronavirus case counts are up in every state in the region except for Connecticut. Vermont and New Hampshire have had two of the largest increases in the U.S., respectively rising by 60% and 56%, the data showed. Health departments in Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine are also recording upticks in hospitalizations.
"Maine and Vermont and New Hampshire have had a recent rise in cases, but Massachusetts, we're at a little bit of a rise but we're really at a plateau," said Dr. David Hamer of Boston Medical Center. "We've sort of been in that same range for several weeks, or almost two months now. And Connecticut's pretty flat. So you know, there's variability, but it's interesting that Vermont I think had the highest proportion of adults that had completed a vaccine series and yet they're seeing a lot of cases right now. And Maine also had pretty high vaccination levels and they're seeing cases. You know, I'm not sure what's driving that. Delta is part of this story, but it's probably you know, it's getting colder in those places. So there's more people spending time indoors."
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"And I think how hard you've been hit in the past plays a role," added Dr. Shira Doron of Tufts Medical Center. "So you know, Massachusetts and Connecticut have more, you know, a larger proportion of the population has been infected in the past, and so that plays some role, and Michigan was looking pretty good for a while there and I think now they're rising, but you know, they were the ones that really got hit hardest with the alpha/beta strain, so I think that protected them to some extent."
COVID-related deaths have remained mostly steady across the region, but Vermont just saw its death totals jump 52%. The state also set a new high for its seven-day case on Saturday with an average of 369 a day.
Vermont's health commissioner on Tuesday reminded residents that "the pandemic isn't over yet," part of a presentation from members of Gov. Phil Scott's administration that aimed to keep attention focused on the seriousness of COVID-19 and steps people can take to reduce infections.
The governor has resisted calls for broad new mask mandates to slow the spread of disease, believing such decrees would not be well-received at this stage in the pandemic. However, Democrats in the Vermont Legislature are now weighing a plan that would allow individual towns the option to put their own mask mandates in place.
Health officials say COVID fatigue, mixed messaging and the number of people who remain unvaccinated may be contributing to the recent rise in cases.
In Connecticut, though cases didn't increase Tuesday, eight residents have now died and nearly 100 more have become infected with COVID-19 after an outbreak at a nursing home.
The outbreak at the Geer Village Senior Community, a nursing home and rehabilitation center in Canaan, started around the beginning of October when the nursing home was reporting three positive COVID-19 cases.
In Massachusetts, several schools have been dealing with a spike in COVID cases over the past two weeks.
The Curley School in Boston shut down last week, and a Quincy kindergarten class is currently in quarantine due to an outbreak.
Since the majority of Massachusetts residents are vaccinated, many of the new cases being reported are breakthrough cases.
Massachusetts health officials on Tuesday reported 5,313 new breakthrough cases over the past week and 41 more deaths. That's an increase of about 700 breakthrough cases over the previous week.
Both figures remain a tiny percentage of the total number of all people who have been vaccinated -- by contrast, more than 4.8 million Bay State residents have been fully vaccinated. The equivalent of just 0.04% of vaccinated people have been hospitalized and 1.2% have had confirmed infections. An even smaller percentage has died: 0.01%.
Medical experts said the people who are getting sick are not being hospitalized at close to the same rate as they were earlier in the pandemic.
"Even though there's been a rise in cases in parts of New England, the hospitalizations have not dramatically increased," Boston Medical Center's Hamer said. "And so I think the vaccines helping blunt that part of the equation, but not completely blocking symptomatic infections."
"I think, even though we're at a plateau, I think the fact that we've plateaued and where we've plateaued is really very disappointing, because we're at somewhere between 11,000 and 15,000 cases per day and last year back in June we were down at around 100, and the previous June, we were down at around 50," said Dr. Daniel Kuritzkes of Brigham and Women's Hospital. "So we're 20 to 30 fold higher than where we were at our best and so where we are now is not where we need to be, and that is concerning."
"I think that's why we need to not give up on masks and still be very cautious about the kinds of group activities and indoor activities in which people participate, especially when it involves mixed groups that people have whereas some are vaccinated and some are not. That's still a major issue."